Seven Poems: Eugenio Montale

Eugenio Montale: Selected Poems
Translated by David Young, Jonathan Galassi & Charles Wright

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At the Threshold

Be pleased if the wind that enters the orchard
brings back the surge of life:
here where a dead tangle of memories
sinks and founders,
there was no garden, only a reliquary.

The flapping you hear is not flight
but a commotion in the eternal womb;
you see how this strip of solitary earth
transforms itself into a crucible.

Beyond the sheer wall is rage.
If you proceed, you might bump into

perhaps you might
the saving apparition:
here the stories are composed, the acts
that the game of the future will cancel.

Look for a broken link in the net
that holds us down, jump out and flee!
Go, I've prayed this for you
now my thirst
will be lighter; the rust less bitter. . .

                                                              translated by David Young


Again and Again I Have Seen Life's Evil

Again and again I have seen life's evil:
it was the strangled brook, still gurgling,
it was the curling of the shriveled leaf,
it was the fallen horse.

I have known no good except the miracle
that reveals the divine Indifference:
it was the statue in the drowsy trance
of noon, the cloud, the cruising falcon.

                                                                translated by David Young


To Spend the Afternoon

To spend the afternoon, absorbed and pale,
beside a burning garden wall;
to hear, among the stubble and the thorns,
the blackbirds cackling and the rustling snakes.

On the cracked earth or in the vetch
to spy on columns of red ants
now crossing, now dispersing,
atop their miniature heaps.

To ponder, peering through the leaves,
the heaving of the scaly sea
while the cicadas' wavering screech
goes up from balding peaks.

And walking out into the sunlight's glare
to feel with melancholy wonder
how all of life and its travail
is in this following a wall
topped with the shards of broken bottles.

                                                                 translated by David Young

Glory of Expanded Noon

Glory of expanded noon
when the trees give up no shade,
and more and more the look of things
is turning bronze, from excess light.

Above, the sunand a dry shore;
so my day is not yet done:
the finest hour is over the low wall,
closed off by a pale setting sun.

Drought all around: kingfisher hovers
over something life has left.
The good rain is beyond the barrenness,
but there's greater joy in waiting.

                                                                  translated by Jonathan Galassi


Bring Me the Sunflower

Bring me the sunflower so I can transplant it
here in my own field burned by salt-spray,
so it can show all day to the blue reflection of the sky
the anxiety of its golden face.

Darker things yearn for a clarity,
bodies fade and exhaust themselves in a flood
of colors, as colors do in music. To vanish,
therefore, is the best of all good luck.

Bring me the plant that leads us
where blond transparencies rise up
and life evaporates like an essence;
bring me the sunflower sent mad with light.

                                                                 translated by Charles Wright


The Dead

The sea that breaks on the opposite shore
throws up a cloud that spumes
until the sand flats reabsorb it. There,
one day, we jettisoned, on the iron coast,
our hope, more gasping than
the open seaand the fertile abyss turns green
as in the days that saw us among the living.

Now that the north wind has flattened out the cloudy tangle
of gravy-colored currents and headed them back
to where they started, all around someone has hung
on the limbs of the tree thicket fish nets that string
along the path that goes down
out of sight;
faded nets that. dry in the late
and cold touch of the light; and over them
the thick blue crystal of the sky winks
and slides toward a wave-lashed arc
of horizon.

                More than seawrack dragged
from the seething that uncovers us, our life
moves against such stasis: and still it seethes
in us, that one thing which one day stopped, resigned
to its limits; among the strands that bind
one branch to another, the heart struggles
like a young marsh hen
caught in the net's meshes;
and motionless and migratory it holds us,
an icy steadfastness.
maybe the dead too have an rest taken away from them
in the ground; a force more pitiless
than life itself pulls them away from there, and all around
(shadows gnawed and swallowed by human memories)
drives them to these shores, breaths
without body or voice
betrayed by the darkness;
and their thwarted flights brush by us even now,
so recently separated from us, so close still,
and back in the sea's sieve go down...

                                                                   translated by Charles Wright


The Storm

Les princes n'ont point d'yeux pour voir ces grand's merveilles,
Leurs mains ne servent plus qu' à nous persécuter . . .

                                                    (Agrippa D' Aubigné: À Dieu)

The storm that trickles its long March
thunderclaps, its hail, onto the stiff
leaves of the magnolia tree;

(sounds of shaking crystal which startle you
in your nest of sleep; and the gold
snuffed on the mahogany, on the backs
of the bound books, flares again
like a grain of sugar in the shell
of your eyelids)

the lightning that blanches
the trees and walls, freezing them
like images on a negative (a benediction
and destruction you carry carved
within you, a condemnation that binds you
stronger to me than any love, my strange sister);
and then the tearing crash, the jangling sistrums, the rustle
of tambourines in the dark ditch of the night,
the tramp, scrape, jump of the fandango. . .and overhead
some gesture that blindly is groping. . .
                                                           as when
turning around, and, sweeping clear your forehead
of its cloud of hair,

you waved to meand entered the dark.

                                                                          translated by Charles Wright



Eugenio Montale: By the time that Eugenio Montale (1896-1981) received the Nobel Prize in 1976, the world was beginning to acknowledge that he was among the greatest of the modernist poets, author of a poetic canon that spanned much of the twentieth century, including the advent of Fascism, two world wars, and the Cold War.  A quiet man, profoundly rooted in the Italian landscape and culture and with an enormous sensitivity to his language and its heritage, Montale shaped poems throughout his life that were mysterious, resonant, and layered with meanings. His poems range from daily life through history and myth, and on to questions of metaphysics and divinity.  As a love poet, a landscape poet, and a spiritual pilgrim, he has few equals.

David Young, who also began translating Montale in the 1960s, is widely known for translations of poets as diverse as Rilke, Petrarch, and Miroslav Holub.  Click here to read David Young's Introduction to Montale's Selected Poems.

Jonathan Galassi is the author of the Montale Collected Poems 1920-1954, a bilingual edition that is considered definitive in its range and authority.

Charles Wright has been translating Montale for forty years; his translation of The Storm, Montale's greatest collection, inaugurated the FIELD Translation Series and won the PEN Translation Prize in 1978.  Click here to read poems by Charles Wright in

Together these translators recreate the distinctive music of a poet whose poems prove rich and compelling to an ever-growing body of readers.

Permission from authors: (copyright c 2004 by David Young; Oberlin College Press; FIELD Translation Series)